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DIRECTED BY: Fede Alvarez
FEATURING: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez
PLOT: Five kids go to a cabin in the woods, read incantations from an evil tome lying around in the basement, get possessed, and start killing each other.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This remake is a perfect example of how to take a unique product and de-weirdify it for mass consumption.
COMMENTS: Evil Dead has photogenic young leads who are also decent actors, inventive camerawork, good music and sound, crisp (if somber) lighting, and more than acceptable makeup, and ample gore (they splurged on the twenty-gallon drums of karo syrup and red food dye). Fans of the original 1981 movie (and its Certified Weird 1987 remake/sequel) will recognize many basic elements: five kids entering a cabin, one coming out, a reading from a forbidden Book of the Dead, chainsaws, body part dismemberment, possessed women chained under the floorboards, the mixed emotions involved in chopping up your zombified girlfriend into itty-bitty pieces, and even a nod to the evil spirit-POV shaky cam.
What’s missing from this version of the Dead, notably, are the scenes of cabin fever, the hallucinatory moments when the furniture laughs and corpses dance in the moonlight. 1981’s Evil Dead was grimy and gritty, a bloody bon bon for drive-in gorehounds; it had low-budget imagination and occasional lapses in taste (the “rape by the woods” scene), but it was an original (and much-imitated) synthesis of The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th. The bigger-budget Evil Dead II was a work of genius, telling the same story as the 1981 movie, but with outrageously over-the-top comic gore and whiplash shifts between horror, action and black comedy.
By contrast, Evil Dead (2013) is slick and professional looking, but it’s seriously lacking in character: it plays it safe, retreading a predictable story that’s firmly rooted in the horror movies’ version of reality. There are a few changes from the original storyline to keep fans on their toes, including some psychological backstory and a ridiculously strained ending switcheroo. It’s gory, it’s packed with action and nail-gun shootouts, but the rough edges are all smoothed out. The mania that animated the early incarnations is missing; Evil Dead has turned into one of its literal-minded imitators. This movie replays the formula last year’s The Cabin in the Woods satirized almost to the script beat. 2013’s Evil Dead has its place in suburban cineplexes; this is an unassuming flick that hearkens back to horror’s unironic let’s-scare-the-teenagers roots. It’s a technically adept production that neither outshines nor embarrasses the original, and it does no harm to the Evil Dead brand. Still, a bad (or at least controversial) remake might have contributed more to series lore (see the effect Rob Zombie revisions have had on Halloween fans) than this forgettable one will.
Evil Dead was helmed by Fede Alvarez, a previously unknown first-time feature director from Uruguay, but it was produced by the team behind the original, including director Sam Raimi, star Bruce Campbell, and original producer Robert G. Tapert. By backing an unnecessary remake that would, to the casual observer, look like a blatant money grab, these guys put their reputations on the line as much as the reputation of the franchise. Campbell went so far as to assure fans that the remake would “kick ass.” In terms of red blood cell count (and box office), Evil Dead 2013 delivered on his promise. But as far as kicking artistic ass…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: